Surviving and thriving at bar work in Brighton
It’s the gay capital, the city of endless partying, the home of eccentrics and it’s by the sea. Brighton has gone from the ’50’s destination of sun, fish and chips to the hotspot for every glittering stag and hen do stumbling in and out of every basement seafront club offering complimentary Cava. What once was a destination for cheap arcade thrills, now offers Tuaca shots and the kind of cheap thrills you pop in the bathroom making it the party town of England that ensures you empty your bank account.
Working in a bar in Brighton you encounter an array of people:
Say hello to clumsy first year students, high on the freedom of living away from home; 18 year olds who are so fresh faced and perky you know they have yet to experience a hangover. You encounter final years, drinking their responsibilities away as they discover the title of their dissertation proposal after 5 shots of tequila. You’ll meet men in lycra glittery hot-pants dancing to disco pop on the cheese floor twerking all night long. You’ll easily be able to distinguish between true Brightonians and tourists; first-timers who have no edge versus the sharp liberality of a socialite dressed in second hand clothes boasting wild hair and trainers. Enter one of Brighton’s oldest pubs and you’ll meet old men who regulars have delineated part of the furniture, drinking the same four beers every day sitting in the same barstool drinking out of his own glass. If you find yourself in a hipster bar, you’ll be swimming in a sea of double-denim, overgrown beards and nose piercings, but the open-mic jazz nights will be a pleasant surprise.
The stereotypes go on and confound the imagination, but be assured that bartending in Brighton is not for the prudish. These diverse characters of the Brighton population disperse in pubs and bars and all seem to merrily coexist in a bubbling spirited concoction. So embrace yourself bartender, for a wildly enthralling experience working in Brighton.
What do you need to know to be successful?
You need all the skills for working in hospitality, with a unique twist as you go the extra mile to please and entertain your customers.
Look up to your managers as they will often inspire you, teach you tricks of the trade and reward you for persistent hard work (booze and more booze).
Have a friendly smile that says, I’m cute and charming, I’m happy to serve you, but I am tough and self-assured so DON’T piss me off.
Have a bar-persona that customers can bounce off. If you have regulars, you will get to know them and often have friendly banter, developing a repartee that ensures they continue to visit your bar because they get more than just the beers they could have got from the corner shop.
As well as a fixed smile as previously mentioned, have attentive eyes and perky ears. Pay attention to long orders, memorising drinks as the customer says them — you will look silly asking them to repeat the list all over again, not to mention incompetent. It wastes time and other customers who are waiting will begin to get restless, that means you won’t be tipped or bought a drink! Also pay attention to the whole venue, not just your section of the bar. Keep an eye on who has been waiting the longest so that they get served next, don’t serve the customer who waves a tenner in your face and sighs with vodka breathe rolling their eyes.
On that note, are they too drunk and causing disruption? Keep your bar safe. If you have any doubts, let your manager or bouncer know about it immediately.
An invaluable lesson in bartending is to listen; listen to the stories customers have to tell, listen to their jokes, ramblings and regrets. There are often regulars who come to the pub just to have someone to talk to because they are lonely. Be the person the retirees look forward to seeing, not for tips or drinks but because it will make your shift meaningful and fulfilling.
On the other hand, is a regular making you uncomfortable? If a customer is overly flirtatious, perhaps derogatory, exhibiting sexual harassment or crossing the fine line between friendly service and a perceived relationship, remember you have the right to refuse service. Don’t flirt back or go along with anything that makes you feel unsafe.
Please, tilt the beer glass — It’s the south of England after all, a small frothy head will do just fine.
Sing, dance and have fun!
And finally, a friendly slice of advice from my housemate Rosie, “never wear white!”